[box cover]

Malice

Everyone complains about trailers, but nobody does anything about them. Almost nobody, that is. The producers of Malice put together a fine trailer that carefully — perhaps too carefully — masked many of the movie's tricks, creating a pleasing surprise-quotient for those who stumbled into it unawares, if they didn't skip the movie altogether because they thought it was only a medical malpractice thriller. But MGM, with its DVD release of a movie that is much sought after by suspense-film purists, have undermined the producers' work. Instead of the finely crafted theatrical trailer, the disc comes with the home-video trailer, which is much different and ends with evangelical boosterism about how well the video will sell. But still, the disc is well worth seeing and owning. At the risk of spoiling the film's clever narrative, one can say that Malice begins with an assault on a college co-ed somewhere in Massachusetts. In the aftermath of the attack, college assistant dean Andy Safian (Bill Pullman) encounters Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin), a newly transferred surgeon from Mass. General who operated on the girl. It turns out that Hill and Safian went to high school together, where Hill was a football star and Safian was a much lesser being. Soon they become friendly enough for Safian to invite Hill to room in Andy's Victorian fixer-upper, much to the displeasure of Andy's wife Tracy (Nicole Kidman). Tracy, meanwhile, suffers from unusual abdominal cramps. Thus is the clash of spirits, interests, and pasts set up for the rest of the film's grim if clever unwinding. Suffice it to say that Malice is really a suspense-thriller. Co-scenarist Aaron Sorkin is a playwright-turned-screenwriter who, at the time, had just come off the success of A Few Good Men, and who would later go on to even more success with the TV series The West Wing. But because Malice is a thriller, many people probably didn't notice that the dialogue is exquisitely written, particularly the lines Peter Gallagher, as a lawyer, is given to speak (the credits thank William Goldman, who probably had some input into the script). And Baldwin has a great speech, intensely delivered, about surgeons being gods. The film is directed by Harold Becker, whose main auteurist personality trait is a certain brilliance in casting. Here, among an excellent cast that does a very good job with Sorkin's text, Gwyneth Paltrow pops up as a young co-ed (this was her fifth picture), while Anne Bancroft, George C. Scott, and Bebe Neuwirth also make appearances. Malice certainly deserves to be available on DVD, if only for the sublime cinematography of Gordon Willis, a photographer who has only done one film since. So one wishes that MGM had put a little more work into the disc. The source print is rather scratchy at the beginning, and occasionally a little washed out. Willis does tend to shoot his movies brown and dark, but this transfer (1.85:1, full-frame on the flip-side) sometimes looks a little grainy. The Dolby 2.0 Surround is adequate for a mostly talky film, but there are some important musical effects, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, that would have benefited from an elevated sound production. The only extra is what the box calls the "original theatrical trailer," which, as this writer has already noted, is none of the sort, and it's annoying — with the original, for once in the history of Hollywood, the promo didn't spoil the movie. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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